Governor Rick Snyder recently announced a statewide plan designed to increase residential recycling access statewide. He also announced appointments to a nine-member Michigan Recycling Council to guide the plan's implementation, including Emmet County's own recycling guru, Elisa Seltzer.
Seltzer has directed the Emmet County Department of Public Works since 1990, and operates Emmet County Recycling (ECR). ECR's recycling facility processes and markets recyclables for Cheboygan, Emmet, Otsego and Presque Isle Counties. The ECR system accepts 28 day-to-day materials for recycling from its curbside collection program and drop-sites throughout the four county area. An additional 32 materials-including electronics, construction and demolition materials--are accepted for recycling at the Emmet County Drop-off Center in Harbor Springs. Emmet County Recycling does not rely on tax dollars. In 2011, the recycling system employed roughly 24 people directly and provided $2.5 million in benefits to the region.
"I am very excited to work with such a respected group of recycling professionals as well as with the dedicated DEQ staff on this important initiative. This sounds pat, but I mean it! It's been a career-long dream of mine to work on bringing recycling to its full potential in Michigan," Seltzer said in an interview with this newspaper.
During the announcements, Snyder noted "Michigan has a strong tradition of protecting and enhancing its environment. But when it comes to recycling, we must do better. Michigan trails other Great Lakes states and much of the nation in residential recycling. It's a complex challenge but one that we can address. This plan puts us on the right path."
Michigan's recycling rate for residential household waste is about 15 percent. The national average is 35 percent. A recent study concluded more than $435 million in recyclable metal, glass, paper and plastics goes from Michigan households to Michigan landfills each year.
Those are staggering numbers-- in both negative and positive ways-- and Seltzer said she understands the challenges the state's new Recycling Council faces.
"We're charged with addressing longer term policies and goals. The most challenging include funding, increasing the number of communities with drop-site and/or curbside programs, involving waste haulers in providing collection services,and how to incentivize communities to collaborate," she said.
Luckily, Seltzer has plenty of experience to draw from, and Emmet County can serve as a fantastic model for other communities throughout Michigan.
"Emmet County was fortunate to benefit from state leadership on this issue in the 1980s. It led to the development of recycling programs which are now considered best-in-class for being convenient, comprehensive, and cost-effective," she said. "Emmet County set the bar high in terms of the number of materials we recycle; our collaboration with regional and statewide markets,selling top-grade recyclables to Michigan factories; keeping jobs in Michigan and maximizing return on investment."
Seltzer said she would also like to see the state also set high goals for statewide recycling access and participation.
"One of the most successful aspects of our programs are the policies behind the scenes that have enabled recycling to grow in our communities. These include our Solid Waste Ordinance and Pay-As-You-Throw requirements (for haulers to charge their customers based on volume). We also provide a great example of how counties can partner together to improve recycling over a wide region."
"States with healthy recycling programs have found that, in addition to reducing pressure on landfills and helping the environment, recycling creates jobs and opens markets for recovered materials," Snyder said. "We've been throwing away money for decades. Addressing this issue is simply the right thing to do."
The 15-point plan focuses on four key areas:
Benchmark and measure progress - including developing ways to better track Michigan's recycling rate and document the progress of the state's effort.
Public education and technical assistance for communities - other states report that an informed and supportive public is a key to increasing recycling, along with providing tools for local governments to develop local programs.
Provide convenient access - successful recycling programs feature convenient access at the local level.
Develop markets - stimulation of market opportunities for recycled products will be addressed with grants and other economic incentives.
The DEQ drafted the plan in cooperation with 45 key stakeholders including recyclers, landfill operators, manufacturers, waste haulers, bottlers,
grocery store operators and others.
"This plan represents a real breakthrough for the myriad interested stakeholders around recycling," said Michigan DEQ Director Dan Wyant during the plan's announcement event. "What we celebrate today is their leadership, our partnership and the sustained commitment from everyone to keep 'Pure Michigan' pure in the years ahead."
The effort is supported by a $1 million appropriation in the governor's recommended fiscal year 2015 budget, along with $500,000 in DEQ pollution prevention grants that will be committed to support local recycling programs over the next two years.
"The Michigan Recycling Coalition is pleased with the governor's leadership on this issue," said Kerrin O'Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition. "This initiative recognizes that we can and should do more to fully achieve the economic and environmental rewards that a
comprehensive residential recycling program will bring to Michigan."
Seltzer agreed, noting, "recycling just makes sense."
" I am so glad that Governor Snyder sees the potential to improve Michigan's economy by putting forth this Recycling Initiative and appointing a Michigan Recycling Council. His leadership can go a long way towards improving recycling that will benefit all of Michigan in jobs, resources and economic vitality," she said.
To learn more about residential recycling opportunities in Michigan or see Michigan's plan, go to www.Michigan.gov/MIrecycles .